Recently, I've revisited a place I hadn't been to for
a while. It wasn't New York or Paris or Rome... I've
never been in those places. The place I'm talking about
is much closer, but much harder to visit... at least inten-
tionally. I usually wind up there by chance. It's the place
between sleeping and waking.
the nutjob living down the street (is there much of a dif-
ference, though ?). I am talking about a relatively
obscure medical condition called Sleep Paralysis.
In case you never heard of it (which
is likely) - Allow me to explain a little bit.
Sleep happens in different phases. The deepest and
most well-known part of each sleep cycle is the REM
phase. REM stands for rapid eye
occurs because the eyes move in accord with what
we "see" in our dreams. This is a normal occurence.
In order to keep the rest of the body from acting out
what goes on in dreamland, the human body releases
a hormonal cocktail that effectively paralyses all
major muscle groups with the exception of internal
organs and parts of the face. The commands from
the brain no longer reach the body.
This is a good thing, because people would run
against walls a lot at night if it didn't happen, and
that would drive insurance payments through
the roof. In fact, it might drive people through
the roof, too. Or through windows. Down the
stairs, into one another... you get the picture.
However, what happens when the "command
routes" aren't cleared when you wake up ?
Imagine waking up in the middle of the night. At least
you are pretty sure that it is the middle of the night, be-
cause you can't see a thing. You are trying to get
but you can't. You can't do anything. You arms won't
lift, your legs won't scramble the sheets, your back won't
rise from the mattress. You have no idea what is going
on, and you're starting to panic a little.
Well, that's sleep paralysis.
Now, before you start worrying too much.. it's harmless.
The condition usually passes within seconds or minutes,
and, unless they know better, most people just assume
that they were dreaming.
Speaking of dreaming - There is another, most peculiar
symptom to sleep paralysis. Apparently most likely
related to the understandable anxiety that comes with
the confused state of waking up as an oversized paper-
weight, the brain starts conjuring up random audatory,
sensory and sometimes visual scenery to explain this
fine mess to the conscious. In other words, you hallu-
cinate a little. What exactly you hear, feel and/or see is
up to you; Or rather, it's up to your subconscious.
It's fairly common to think that there's something heavy
on your chest, pushing you down into the bed. A lot of
people hear strange, random and unnerving noises. A
particularly religious person might perceive a demon
trying to take hold of them; daytime talkshow viewers
might believe to experience an abduction by aliens,
complete with floating out the window and being
probed somewhere in a spaceship. In fact, some re-
searchers believe that the idea of alien abductions in
fact stems from sleep paralysis, becoming progressively
more specific and detailed as sufferers heard descrip-
tions of such abductions in the media and pulled them
from their subconscious during episodes.
Fortunately enough, a good way to avoid such b-movies
playing out in your head during sleep paralysis is simple:
Realizing what is going on.
As an "informed" sleep paralysis patient (I use the term
loosely here, as I am not receiving medical treatment),
I perceive the episodes as what they are - A mild
annoyance and kinda interesting at the same time. That is
not to say that I'm not experiencing hallucinations... But
mine (and those of countless others) are rather mundane.
I can still perceive a heavy weight on my chest, but I
realize that it's really just the blanket or my own arms.
I see myself lifting those arms when I try, even though
I might not be moving them yet. That's admitably a little
If you are now sitting in front of your screen with
the elated expression that comes with finally figuring out
what happened to you all those nights, here are a few
words of advice for you.
There is no surefire way to avoid sleep paralysis, but
there are things that help. Keep a healthy and steady
sleep schedule. Try to live healthy in general.
There seem to be medical ways to reduce the likelyhood
of an episode, too.. But that is generally not recommen-
dable, as those would needlessly strain your mind and
body disproportionally. Rather try not to sleep on your
back, as that appears to be the most common position
for sleep paralysis to occur. (Personally, I almost never
experience the phenomenom when I sleep on my side)
If and when you happen to slip into this confusing state
upon waking up, the best advice is to stay calm. If you
don't panic, you won't see or hear anything out of the
ordinary, except maybe exaggerated versions of the
normal noises around you (silently ticking clock
becomes loud ticking noise). To come out of it, try
to speak or make small movements like wiggling your
fingers or toes. Don't be upset if it doesn't work right
away - I went through the entire alphabet song before
I was fully awake last time. Staying calm, you might
even fall back asleep and wake up again regularly
a little later. Just remember - You're not going insane
or losing control of your body. It's merely a little flub
that will work itself out in a minute.
If you'd like to find out more about sleep paralysis and
it's causes, I recommend having a look at one of the
PS: You could theoretically try to go back and try
to conjure up some more pleasant, maybe even
delightfully naughty hallucinations.. but it probably
won't work if you absent-mindedly roll onto your
side like I did last time. Damn !